With the death of 'Lil Bub' [Age 8] this week and the passing of 'Grumpy Cat' on May 14 [Age 7], it gave me pause [no pun intended] to think about the deaths of "our" Internet pets. For instance, cats only have an average lifespan of 13-17 years and certain breeds of dogs may only live to the ripe old age of 18 years. It's only our birds who live longer. Cockatiels may live to 20 years and Macaws are known to reach the ripe old age of 60 years.
Who do Internet Pets belong to?
Note I call these Internet pet celebs as "our pets." Daniel Victor from the NY Times reported on the death of Lil Bub as a pet that belongs to all of her millions of followers:
"Her unexpected death on Sunday, resulting from a bone infection, led a vast collection of fans to mourn her as if she were their own, having spent years awwing at her face."
He went on to comment how social media creates a familiarity we have with these types of pets: "With millions of followers on social media, and a mini-empire of commercial appearances elsewhere, Lil Bub was, to many, as familiar as the kitten next door."
Grumpy Cat's meteoric rise was propelled by users on Reddit and other Internet outlets. She was so popular, attendees at the SXSW Interactive Festival in 2013 lined up around the block to take a photo of her.
The aura of Grumpy prompted NPR's Elise Hu to editorialize her as "perhaps the hottest celebrity at SXSW [and she] isn't even human."
Medium's correspondent Pete Carson reported that "the amount of animals getting cult status online is reaching new highs, and with it the ratio of animal pet deaths is scaling at an equally morbid rate."
As these pet owners react to the various stages of grief, online memorials were too many to count. Often they keep the page as a shrine, but with every death post is the sharing with fans and followers of what otherwise would have been a very personal form of sharing. Carson made point that "it's not just the owners who are weeping."
In Lil Bub's memorial post to her followers, her owner noted that she felt "honored and humbled" to have been Lil Bub's caretaker, and that "In memory of Lil BUB, please enjoy this photo of her meeting Robert DeNiro at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival in New York."
When Grumpy died, one of her followers memorialized her similar to the passing of an accomplished human being: “Besides being our baby and a cherished member of the family, Grumpy Cat has helped millions of people smile all around the world – even when times were tough,” the statement continued. “Her spirit will continue to live on through her fans everywhere.”
Loss of Income follows . . .
Because a lot of these Internet pets become 'cash cows' [again no pun intended - not that I know of any Instagrammable cows] - pet owners experience a major source of income when they cross the rainbow bridge.
In her lifetime, her owner, Loni Edwards was able to secure several partnerships based on Chloe's enigmatic grin. Her Instagram account allowed her sign deals with Tuna Melts My Heart, Harlow & Sage and the Dogist.
When Chloe died, she had a billboard advertisement with Google’s Pixel smartphone and subway ads for the luxury bedding company Brooklinen, and she was also an ambassador for Swiffer cleaning products.
While Edwards wouldn't reveal the value of Chloe's commercial success, she did say that Internet pets with 100,000+ followers or more could make in the neighborhood of $3000 to $15,000 per sponsored post.
However at the time her death, the majority of that incoming cash revenue went up in smoke.
Is the Decade of the Meme Pet Culture Ending?
With the increase in Internet users came the Meme Pet Culture. Hundreds of these pets were launched to stardom for sometimes doing nothing at all. Sometimes, they acheived acknowledgment, if they were born with a physical imperfection, such as Grumpy Cat's permanent scowl due to feline dwarfism. A single screenshot turned that cat into a viral sensation.
But has the era peaked?
The deaths of Choloe, Lil Bub and Grumpy Cat might be the end of this meme culture? Kara Weisenstein's writes in "All the Viral Pets are Dead" she thinks that is the case:
"So today, we’re not just mourning the passing of famous cats like Lil Bub. We’re pouring one out for the end of an era, 2010 to 2019, the decade when feline influencers ruled the internet."
When a pet meme is overused to the extent it is no longer considered comic-worthy, it's as dead as the actual death of the pet. Can other Internet pets rise to the levels of celebrity as Chloe, Lil Bub or Grumpy? Can they be replaced? Or like the memes they introduced, will they fade in time?
What's next that won't make us weep?
Internet Pets took the place of the television pets like Lassie in the 1950s and 60s. However, death was not a concern, since Lassie could be replaced by both female and male dogs after the original passed away. So their TV lifespans of these pets were much longer that Internet pets.
However, as TV and Internet pet stars fade from memory, is there something else on the horizon to catch our zeitgeist?
My thought is robot dogs and cats? Aibo is one such pet, characterized as such:
Tail wagging excitedly, little "Aibo" follows its owner with cute, puppy dog eyes.
He loves to be patted, has learnt to “high five”, and even knows when you have had a good – or bad – day.
Sounds like a loveable replacement for Internet pets. And since they don't die, they most likely will last a human's lifetime. Plus, there is no mourning. Any other suggestions, dear reader? If so, please comment below.
Primary Source: The Guardian